REVIEW: AMERICAN DIRT, BY JEANINE CUMMINS

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?


There was something captivating about Lydia Perez in American Dirt. She and her young son Luca suffer the horrific killing of their family in their own backyard during a birthday party, and in spite of the trauma and the stunning aftermath, she finds a way forward. Carefully, since she doesn’t know who might present new and ever-present dangers to her and her son, so she must be cautious. Not trusting anyone.

Along the way, Lydia and Luca meet other immigrants headed for “el norte,” forming a kind of family unit, while keeping a wary eye out for the dangers along the way.

Learning to travel on the tops of freight trains; connecting to a “coyote” who might help them cross over; but never forgetting for one moment that each day could bring new dangers…the intense journey kept me engaged throughout, even though I always knew that there would never be a “happy ending.”

The story does end on a hopeful note, but realistically, I realized that their hardships were just beginning. I did like that a feeling of hope helped them move forward, but also felt a sadness for what they would still encounter in their new lives. This book had a plodding quality to it, but, like the journey itself, the pace seemed appropriate. 4.5 stars.

***

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